Thursday, February 23, 2017

Important Misnomers

     Not too long ago I wrote a lengthy rant about “Political Correctness” and its perniciousness. At that top of that essay were several quotes about the importance of naming things properly. The problem of misnomers in legal and political language is more important than many would think. It deserves a few minutes of its own, quite apart from the many controversies over which we wrangle today.


     At the heart of this survey is the most abused word in our legal-political lexicon: rights.

     The word rights is abused both by overuse and by inaccurate conflations. Incredibly, the problem reaches all the way back to the Founding.

     Catherine Drinker Bowen, in her masterpiece Miracle at Philadelphia, notes that during the Constitutional Convention there was much talk about rights – but not the rights of individual Americans. The chat concerned the “rights of states,” meaning the states that would become components of the United States of America. That phrasing was taken as a compact expression for the duties and powers reserved by the Constitution to the state governments and therefore denied to the federal government. Ever afterward, “states’ rights” was used to refer to those duties and powers.

     But a right is neither a duty nor a power. A duty is the responsibility for some area of activity, assigned or relegated by a superior authority to a lesser entity. A power, legally speaking, is a grant that coercive force may be used, without penalty, in some context. A right is a principle of justice: the recognition that force and intimidation (i.e., coercion by threat) are morally disallowed in a certain context.

  • Your “right to life” means that you cannot morally be killed or wounded.
  • Your “right to liberty” means that you cannot morally be restricted from peaceably doing as you please.
  • Your “property rights” mean that what you have peaceably acquired cannot morally be taken from you by force or fraud.

     Only a real individual – a living, breathing human being – can have moral standing. Therefore only an individual can have rights. Governments cannot have rights because they are abstract entities: things whose solidity is illusory. They’re composed of rules observed and applied by a continually changing body of men: the “agents of the state.” In becoming such an agent, whether by election, appointment, or employment, an individual acquires duties, not new rights.

     Without that separation, the individual’s relation to government becomes irremediably muddled.


     Left-wing activists have profited greatly by misusing the word rights. Take for example their many cries for “the right to a living wage.” If we can leave aside for a moment the undefined conception of a “living wage,” the problem of this assertion as a “right” remains. What, after all, is being claimed here?

     If you have a right to a “living wage” – for the sake of specificity, let’s set that at $15.00 per hour – then to deny you that amount would be unjust. But upon whose shoulders does this requirement rest? Under what conditions? Does the right come with any responsibilities attached? Suppose the claimant refuses to meet those responsibilities? And of course, the implication is that the claimant is employed. What if he isn’t? Does he still possess the right? Upon whose shoulders does it rest then?

     It doesn’t work. It cannot be made to work. That’s in the nature of any “right” that asserts that someone else must provide the claimant with what he claims. But the word rights is so powerful that extracting it from the mouths of persons who want to claim a “right” to any arbitrary thing is a job for Hercules.


     The significance of the term rights lies in its application to governments and their treatment of individuals within their jurisdiction. In the American conception, governments exist to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” But in doing those things, American governments are forbidden to trespass upon individuals’ rights. Individuals’ rights are moral boundaries that restrict the actions of governments in the performance of their Constitutionally assigned duties.

     Here we encounter a still more perplexing aspect of rights talk: the strange, seemingly inextinguishable notion of a “right to vote.” Because American governments are partially populated by electoral processes – not purely democratic ones, as the backers of Hillary Clinton lament to their extreme sorrow – some persons must be accorded the power to participate in such processes. Note that persons accorded that power in Congressional and Senatorial elections in one state don’t possess it in another. Note that persons accorded that power in Congressional elections only possess it in the Congressional district in which they reside. Note also that non-adults, felons, and non-citizens don’t possess that power anywhere, even though every person in each of those categories possesses the rights to life, liberty, and peaceably acquired property, no matter his age, residence, or citizenship standing.

     So what makes the vote a “right?”

     Nothing. It isn’t one. It’s a privilege granted under conditions specified by the state. Strictly speaking, it’s a license to participate in certain of the state’s electoral processes. But to speak of it as a “right” creates a rhetorical opening the Left uses to rant about granting the vote to the underage, to felons, to non-citizens, even to illegal aliens.

     As Rose Wilder Lane wrote in The Discovery of Freedom, no one is born with a ballot in his hand. Nor are any man’s real rights affected by whether or not he’s been licensed to vote in some Congressional district, some state, or in our national presidential elections. Those are protected by the immutable moral laws of the universe, written by God Himself into our natures, no matter where he may be.


     There might be no more important simple change to our rhetoric than this: to insist that things go by their proper names. I see red when I hear someone say “undocumented immigrant.” If feel my blood pressure rise when some cretin rants about a “right to affordable housing.” Worst for my cheerful good nature (and beyond question the most beloved of both the political class and the Left) is the oft-heard statement about America being a “democracy,” which it is not. All these misnomers cry out for prompt and unsparing correction.

     Confucius insisted that “what is necessary “ – the first and most important of all the tasks of a ruler – is “to rectify names.” Consider this tirade a first step toward that end.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It’s Not About Respect Or Freedom Of Expression

     It’s about control:

     Mika Brzezinski has committed a Kinsleyesque “gaffe.” Michael Kinsley defined that as an occasion on which a politician unwittingly tells the truth. I submit that the definition applies with equal accuracy to mask slippages among media figures.

     The luminaries of the media really would like to control what you think, Gentle Reader. They aspire to the authority of Orwell’s Ministry of Love. That President Trump has denied them the homage they expect from the White House has evoked their counterfire. Not that that’s likely to have the effect they seek.

     Allow me to add a snippet from a great and unjustly neglected novel:

     “Senor Hakluyt, you are a stranger in Aguazul. You will therefore be inclined to dispute the dogmatic assertion that this is the most governed country in the world.”
     Again that air of throwing down a gauntlet in debate, again that cocking of the head to imply a challenge. I said, “All right — I dispute it. Demonstrate.”
     “The demonstration is all about you. We make it our business, first, to know what people think; we make it our business, next, to direct that thinking. We are not ashamed of that, senor, incidentally. Shall we say that — just as specific factors influence the flow of traffic, and you understand the factors and can gauge their relative importance — we now understand many of the factors that shape and direct public opinion? What is a man, considered socially? He is a complex of reactions; he takes the line of least resistance. We govern not by barring socially unhealthy paths, but by opening most wide those paths which are desirable. That is why you are here.”
     “Go on,” I invited after a pause.
     He blinked at me. “Say rather what is your view. Why is it we have adopted this round-and-round policy of inviting an expensive expert to solve our problems subtly, instead of saying, ‘Do this!’ and seeing it done?”
     I hesitated, then counter-questioned. “Is this, then, the extension of an existing policy rather than a compromise between opposed personal interests?”
     He threw up his hands. “But naturally!” he exclaimed, as though surprised to find me so obtuse. “Oh, it is ostensibly that there is conflict between one faction and another — but we create factions in this country! Conformism is a slow death; anarchy is a rapid one. Between the two lies a control which” — he chuckled — “like a lady’s corset in an advertisement, constricts and yet bestows a sense of freedom. We govern our country with a precision that would amaze you, I believe.”

     [John Brunner, The Squares Of The City]

     The vision here is plainly one of nightmare: a political system that consciously and actively seeks to shape the thinking of its subjects. Yet in a supreme irony, Brunner, a lifelong socialist (about which he was coy in his novels), advocated for a political system that must needs bring about that very thing.

     Alejandro Mayor, the Minister of Communications in Brunner’s fictional Aguazul, could as easily have been the CEO of a cartel of newspapers and broadcasters, provided only that he and his enterprises had agreed to collaborate with the State. Imagine what latitude the Internet would have under either such regime, and the hostility it would earn from the political elite. And imagine what media luminary Mika Brzezinski would think of such an arrangement, were she numbered not among its masters but among its victims.

The Milo Business Part 2: Justice And Appropriate Responses

     The reverberations from the Milo Yiannopoulos controversy and the reactions to commentary on it will echo through the BlogoSphere for some time. I’ve already gotten some, and needless to say, the responses have been...mixed.

     In my previous piece on the subject I omitted to address the justice of what’s happened to Milo since his remarks became public knowledge. There’s a reason for that, and it’s the same as the reason I don’t bother to note that the sky is blue and water flows downhill: the injustice of it should be obvious to anyone with three functioning brain cells. But as with many other public contretemps, omitting to express an obvious truth will often be taken (by persons desperate for an excuse to vent their bile at you) as an implicit endorsement of the opposite view.

     Shameful, really. But what can you do about persons determined to destroy you who’ll seize on any smallest crack in your defenses? Why, that’s one I can answer even at this hour. You can:

  1. Ignore them;
  2. Counterattack and destroy them.

     This piece will be a bit discursive, so you might want to put up more coffee. Grab a muffin or something to wash it down.


     Organizations will always possess a dynamic that arises from their nature. For example, the dynamic of government is to seek ever more power and scope, which is “why the worst always get on top.” (Cf. Friedrich Hayek) Organization dynamics will flow from what the organization prioritizes: money, notoriety, votes, or what have you.

     Within an organization’s priority scheme will be a set of subsidiary priorities believed to connect directly to its main priority. For example, commercial organizations tend to value publicity for their wares, and usually to a lesser extent for themselves as well. However, the Qaddafi Principle (“I don’t care what they say about me in the papers as long as they spell my name right”) does not apply uniformly to all commercial organizations. Size, geographical scope, demographic targeting, and other factors play their parts.

     Note in this connection the recent efforts by giant enterprises BP and Koch Industries to promote themselves as benevolent forces. BP, of course, has the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill to “live down.” Koch has been the target of left-wing detractors and slanderers for decades. In both cases, upper managements decided to wage a counter-publicity campaign intended to offset the negative press their enterprises had received. Whether those campaigns are achieving the desired effect, I cannot say.

     The inverse approach – an attempt to distance the organization from whatever specific persons or events have been used to defame it – is just as common as the one above. More often than not, such an approach is applied prophylactically, to head off anticipated negative attention. That’s what’s happened in the case of the Conservative Political Action Conference, Simon & Schuster, and the Breitbart organization.

     The desire of such organizations to head off bad press is understandable. Moreover, it has been determined empirically that the effective courage of a commercial organization (much like the effective intelligence of a committee) varies inversely as the square of its headcount. (Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s essay “Directors and Councils or Coefficient of Inefficiency” is highly illuminating on this point.) That’s why I termed their reactions inevitable in my earlier piece.

     That, however, doesn’t make those reactions just.


     A man’s moral posture is defined by the following considerations:

  • What he requires of himself;
  • What he forbids to himself;
  • What he requires of others;
  • What he forbids to others.

     It really is that simple. Even in effectuation it remains simple, for a moral posture does not demand minutely specific responses to particular stimuli that are uniform across all of us. One can only do what he can do. The same applies to organizations.

     However – and here we must be most emphatic – in any commercial organization there will be a pinnacle position, the President or Chief Executive Officer, who is capable of imposing his will upon the organization when he so desires. This person, more than any other, has the responsibility for enforcing moral norms upon his company. It follows that moral defaults, no matter who in the company might be the proximate cause, ultimately become his responsibility:

  1. If a subordinate refuses to do what the company’s moral strictures demand, that subordinate must be disciplined.
  2. If a subordinate commits an injustice against someone, that subordinate must be disciplined and the injustice redressed.

     The best organizations with which I’m acquainted have been relentless about those things. Perhaps the best known is IBM, whose CEOs have maintained a watchful eye over its employees ever since the founding of the company. The Watsons, Senior and Junior, never allowed an injustice of which they were aware to go unaddressed. That ethic permeates the company today.

     It follows that the grotesque injustices done to Milo Yiannopoulos by CPAC, Simon & Schuster, and the Breitbart organization should have been prevented by the CEOs of the responsible organizations. It seems that the opposite was the case. That comes as close to unforgivable as any managerial sin I can imagine.


     “There’s no merit to discipline under ideal circumstances. I’ll have it in the face of death, or it’s worthless.” – Hober Mallow, in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.

     The final question is what might be required of Us the Patrons of the relevant organizations. That’s fairly simple: whatever we can do to reprove them for their sins. Some possibilities:

  • Letters to CEOs;
  • Adverse publicity;
  • Commercial boycotts.

     That’s for those of us “outside” those organizations. Their employees face different incentives and constraints, and I will not presume to instruct them.

     To sum up: If you fail to uphold your moral standards when under pressure, you don’t really have moral standards. That goes for organizations as well as for individuals. Justice is a moral imperative for a society that seeks to endure. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Milo Business

     By now, the Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch will be aware that I’m no fan of homosexuality. I don’t advocate legal measures against it, nor will I tolerate those who victimize homosexuals or treat them as a lesser species. They’re human beings endowed with free will, entitled to make their own mistakes and to reap the consequences for them, whatever those might be. I do oppose their campaign for the radical disassembly of marriage. Neither do I harbor any illusions about what their choices will do to them; I’m too much the scientist for that.

     One branch of homosexual activists I regard as a graver pestilence than the others is the subgroup that campaigns against age-of-consent laws. Mind you, a statutorily decreed age of consent is inherently a magic number. It doesn’t arise from any principle of natural law. Even so, it’s inevitable, even necessary, that there should be such an age, for the alternative is to have the State decree, one individual at a time and on arbitrary criteria, whether each of us is sufficiently competent to consent to a sexual encounter. If that notion doesn’t leave you with a persistent shudder, check your pulse; you may have died and not noticed.

     Homosexual activists strive to insinuate themselves into all sorts of activist communities. They did great damage to West Coast libertarian activism in the Eighties and Nineties. They’re no less capable of harm today. The recent incident with Milo Yiannopoulos, though he must be considered an unwitting and surely unintentional collaborator, puts that into high relief.

     Granted that there are more sinners in this tableau than Milo alone, nevertheless the episode casts an unforgiving light on conservatives’ political relations (as opposed to our social and religious relations) with homosexuality and its practitioners.


     It’s an old maxim that he who sleeps with his dogs will arise with their fleas, and indeed it is so. Whether it’s “fair” or not to infer that he who associates with a homosexual therefore condones homosexuals’ behavior in its entirety, many will draw exactly that inference. It might even be halfway reasonable, for the zone that separates toleration from approval is murky and continuous. At any rate there’s nothing to be done about it.

     When conservatives produce a figure with an admitted deviance such as homosexuality, and then promote – actively or passively – that figure as a spokesman of sorts for conservative convictions, we must prepare to face some undesirable consequences. Such consequences arose with the events cited above. They impelled at least two institutions, the Conservative Political Action Conference and publishing house Simon & Schuster, to act against Yiannopoulos in ways damaging both to him and to them. Yet those reactions were inevitable, so completely so as to give a new dimension to the word.

     To be perfectly fair, Yiannopoulos did not condone, much less advocate, pedophilia or any of the other sexual behaviors routinely mislabeled with that word. He has insisted that he did not (and does not), and a strict interpretation of his remarks bears that out. What he did that was gravely damaging, both to his public stature and to conservatism generally, was to tread along the edges of one of the West’s firmest taboos.

     Yes, he was induced to do so by questions from his listeners. That doesn’t make his unguarded response wise. If anything, one who purports to speak for a set of ideas should be aware of the tactics used by foes to elicit self-damaging remarks. He should have sensed the danger at once. He could have averted the hard lessons that have followed.


     The affair doesn’t admit of extensive analysis. Taboos are like that: reflexive and not always reasonable, or not entirely. It’s certainly reasonable to demand that children, especially prepubescent children, be protected from the sexual advances of adults. We’ve become more conscious of the problem in recent years, albeit uneasily so due to the overzealousness of certain State agencies, our moral quandary over homosexuality, and our difficulties with homosexual activism. The problem of homosexual proselytization of the underage is real. As one who has been several times solicited by homosexuals, including two frightening incidents in my childhood, I speak from experience.

     However, as he often does, Ace has some thoughts we would do well to ponder:

     One can dispute [Milo’s] claims and criticize the callowness and the occasional meanness and casual offensiveness of his statements without taking the next step of deciding that we're going to mob up together to destroy his life just because we're kinda bored and not doin' much else on a slow news day.

     Or can we?

     I don't know that we can any longer.

     This is where we are; this is what we are. Perhaps this is what we've always been -- perhaps we just needed a technological innovation of social media to enable us to focus and purify our hatred into a polarized speck of white-hot dissolving heat.

     Maybe we just needed this one stupid little tool so that we could take this week's pleasure in inflicting cruelty on strangers, like a sadistic kid just needs a magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays on a random ant....

     But even though I found [Milo’s] defenses spurious and calculatedly naive, I can't say I'm outraged by someone attempting to make the case that we should be more free to speak, not less.

     My strongly-held opinion on that point is that we are too limited in what we are free to say without be scalped, boycotted, or fired, not too damn "free" and in need of further abridgments to make sure other people's Spaces are Safe.

     Even if the defense of freedom of expression in question is frequently disingenuous, I still gotta say... I'm not terribly bothered by a disingenuous effort to push back against the Speech Police.

     Think about it – and not just with regard to Milo Yiannopoulos, but in connection to our political adversaries and what we are sometimes tempted to do to them.

An explanation of our Syria policy as good as any.

The CIA and Israel are responsible for the creation of Isis. Isis was created specifically to weaken Iran and destabilize Syria. It worked for awhile until Putin shored up Assad and bolstered Iranian Qud forces. The real reason you see such anti-Russian fever from both Schumer and McCain, Graham and Feinstein, is because the operation has blown up in our faces.[1]

Certainly, there is no satisfactory official explanation why we are spending billions to bring down Assad.

Let's go with this until a better one is offered.

Notes
[1] DHS Insider quoted in "DHS Insider: Pedogate Exposes CIA-Mossad Deep State." By Henry Makow, henrymakow.com, 2/17/17.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Victor Orban on the open society.

Once upon a time, when the European democracies were at the apogee of their orbit. But since then the era of open societies dawned upon the Western part of Europe and over the great ocean, too, and gave birth to their thought police: political correctness.

Some years ago democracy was based on debate, precise measurements of pro and con arguments, open expression, free thoughts and associations, vibrant, encouraging innovative solutions, a lively intellectual life. That is why was so attractive to our gladly-visiting neighbors, pub-loving, café-gossiping Hungarian folk, too.

The new political system, the so-called “open society”, liquidated all of this. Instead of a debate-based democracy, a correctness-based democracy arrived. In the terrain of ideology, that meant the liberal intellectual trend turned against the ideal of democracy, that is, the majority-based ideal, against the will of the cohesive majority community.

In the political realm, the open society meant that the true power, decisions and influence, instead of residing with elected parliamentary representatives and governments, were put into the hands of unelected global network of people, to media gurus and the unelected international organizations, for whom nobody voted, and they outsourced it to their local offices.[1]

I always have wondered what Soros meant by his Open Society. It sounded nice but floated aimlessly like a balloon with no antecedents and nothing familiar to it. Western nations with traditions of free speech and intellectual inquiry seemed already to provide all that is deceptively hinted at in Soros's phrase but they, to him, are not only inadequate but must be uprooted completely. "Open Society" thus signifies total destruction of the familiar in favor of some vague new thing that nonetheless involves repression and national suicide. Progressivism.

It has been a comforting thought of most of my life that modern Western nations all involved at their core a rational, often incremental improvement in the lives of their citizens, notwithstanding periods of great folly and actors entering the stage offering instead insanity and great evil. Inevitably, the ship would find its correct course even though no human society can insulate itself from decadence, corruption, or evil.

Needless to say, not much can be said in defense of such a view. Western nations have, even in times of great prosperity and relative peace, been blind to the plain evidence of treason and subversion, and devoted to a leadership class and geist that are simply lunatic.

Notes
[1] Victor Orban quoted in "Viktor Orbán: Soros Organizations Bring 100,000s of Migrants to Europe." Gates of Vienna, 2/17/17 (paragraphing added).

Astute observation.

I hope that Europeans realize that your fight against islamization is really a fight against communism. if you continue to elect leftists you will continue to be colonized. it is not the governments of the islamic countries that are sending their citizens to your countries. it is you leftist politicians that are BRINGING the muslims to [your] counties. the leftist politicians in the united states have been doing the same with central and south American colonists since the 1980s.
Comment by tommy651 on "Vlaams Belang: Fighting Against the Islamization of Our Culture." By Baron Bodissey, Gates of Vienna, 2/17/17.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why We Love

     [I write so much about politics and current events that I sometimes become stale and repetitive...to myself. That makes it vitally important that I depart from the pattern at intervals, whether by writing something new that’s well off the political track or by rescuing a non-political piece from its slumbers in my archives. As I have a long agenda for today, I’ve chosen the latter course.

     The following piece first appeared at the old Palace of Reason on January 10, 2004. -- FWP]


     Politics, as important as it is, can be awfully repetitive. A life continually steeped in politics becomes as dismal as one lived behind prison walls. The similarities are not coincidental.

     We'll be force-fed quite a lot of politics for the next ten months or so. Quadrennial elections raise the stakes, and the Commentariat likes nothing better than a high-stakes game. So there'll be much thrust and parry, much denigration and counter-denigration, a lot of mudslinging, and here and there a few groats of real analysis. But as important as it is, the winner-take-all combat of the campaign must not be allowed to roughen our sensibilities. There are things more important than electoral politics. There is love.

     Yes, this will be one of those essays.


     Several stories about the Howard Dean for President campaign, including a large one in last Sunday's New York Times, have emphasized the social drives that have attracted most of its younger adherents. To be brief, a lot of Dean's campaign workers are there more to meet somebody than to make Howard Dean the next President. The observation has occasioned a lot of chuckling, a little head-scratching, and too little serious thought.

     Is it not possible that the same motivation attracts single people to many, perhaps even most political campaigns, but that, until recently, it was considered indiscreet to say so?

     At this time, the traditional mechanisms that bring the unmarried together to form couples have grown unprecedentedly weak. Many things have contributed to this weakening: family diasporas and dramatic changes in family structures, the pressures of corporate employment, the disaffiliation from mainstream churches, the increased liabilities involved in matchmaking, and others. In consequence, there's a certain sense of anxiety among young Americans about getting matched up. It sometimes expresses itself behaviorally as frenzy: an accelerating rotation among the few mechanisms that remain, driven by the ticking of body clocks that, despite all the advances of modern medical science, cannot be rewound or reset.

     Alongside the weakening of the older mating techniques and the increasing tension we feel over the difficulties, we have an increasingly muddled sense for why we mate. Humans have pair-bonded for all of recorded history at least, but we've given the why of the matter insufficient thought even so.

     Ironically, the subject has acquired new prominence and several new facets from two political developments: the Dean for President campaign and the drive for homosexual marriage.

     The non-risible answer to "Why are you involved in Smith's campaign?" has always been "Because I agree with his positions and want to see him elected." In other words, a vision of justice, rather than any more personal fulfillment, was the overt motivation espoused. If the questioner suspected other motivations, it was deemed intrusive to inquire about them.

     Yet the love of justice, though not identical to the love of another person, is nonetheless a form of love: the investment of self in the well-being and happiness of others. The investment is seldom total -- the technical term for a man who gives himself entirely to the pursuit of justice is hero, and there aren't many -- but it's made to some degree by anyone not completely unconcerned with the rights of others.

     As regards homosexual marriage, about which your Curmudgeon has a rather dismissive opinion, the question of love is amplified by the absurdity and stridency of its proponents. They've made some ridiculous claims: in particular, that homosexuals can love each other just as much as heterosexuals, and therefore ought to have legally recognized marriages.

     Yet the marriage contract has nothing to do with love. Marriage was devised to establish and enforce the obligations of spouses to one another and to their progeny. Love has been independent of marriage, and often in opposition to it, for all of human history. If the crux of the matter were love, the discussion would be over.


     The Dean workers seeking soulmates through their involvement in politics ought not to be laughed aside. By their participation in the campaign, they've already declared a love for an impersonal ideal, strong enough to evoke some degree of self-sacrifice and dedication. Such common values are often the bridge to mutual discoveries that go much broader and deeper than politics.

     Similarly, homosexuals who pair-bond in the monogamous style of faithfully married heterosexuals and maintain that bond for many years deserve respect. They demonstrate love through their behavior, to which their legal status is irrelevant. A significant number of mated homosexuals are willing to concede that marital status is irrelevant to their emotional lives, which is even more to their credit.

     Love is germinated from common values. Once well sprouted, love regards legal niceties as irrelevant.

     This is not to say that lovers cannot differ on anything of importance. Nor is it to say that no tragedies ever arise because lovers are separated by legal matters; some of the oldest and most compelling romances concern lovers who are bound in marriage to other persons for whom they feel little or nothing. But love itself -- the recognition of superb value, worthy of protecting and cherishing even at great cost to oneself -- is not affected by such things. Why? Why do human beings commit themselves to one another, or to abstract ideals such as freedom or justice, sometimes at an infinite cost? Why do nearly all of us seek out such a commitment, and feel incomplete or irrelevant if we can't form one?


     Brace yourself: your Curmudgeon is about to abridge a New Year's resolution:

     Mr. Bultitude's mind was as furry and as unhuman in shape as his body. He did not remember, as a man in his situation would have remembered, the provincial zoo from which he had escaped during a fire, nor his first snarling and terrified arrival at the Manor, nor the slow stages whereby he had learned to love and trust its inhabitants. He did not know that he loved and trusted them now. He did not know that they were people, nor that he was a bear. Indeed, he did not know that he existed at all: everything that is represented by the words I and Me and Thou was absent from his mind....

     There was no prose in his life. The appetencies which a human mind might disdain as cupboard loves were for him quivering and ecstatic aspirations which absorbed his whole being: infinite yearnings, stabbed with the threat of tragedy and shot through with the colours of Paradise. One of our race, if plunged back for a moment in the warm, trembling, iridescent pool of pre-Adamite consciousness, would have emerged believing that he had grasped the absolute, for the states below reason and the states above it have, by their common contrast to the life we know, a certain superficial resemblance. Sometimes there returns to us from infancy the memory of a nameless delight or terror, unattached to any delightful or dreadful thing, a potent adjective floating in a nounless void, a pure quality. At such moments we have experience of the shallows of that pool. But fathoms deeper than any memory can take us, right down in the central warmth and dimness, the bear lived all its life. [C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength]

     Indirectly, Lewis has pointed us toward the human difference, the characteristic that separates Man's mind from all other creatures. We are conscious of ourselves as independent, self-actuated beings. We know ourselves to be parts of the world, capable of acting and being acted on. Our rational faculty could not operate if we were incapable of distinguishing this from that, or of recognizing our individual separation from all other things.

     This is one half of the operation of the rational mind: the analysis of things into parts. The other half is the synthesis of those parts into wholes. A beast, unconscious of its individuality, asks nothing more, but it is impossible for a man to be aware of his separateness but not want the complementary experience -- the experience of joining together with others -- as well.

     Knowing that we are parts, we yearn to be more. We look to join ourselves to other things -- people, associations, causes, nations -- to become greater than we could be as individuals. We extend ourselves into that which is not ourselves. We commit.

     We don't do this rashly or randomly. Not all fabrics ought to be sewn together. But our desire to be more than we are draws us into society looking for connections to make. As regards abstract commitments, our reason is supreme in the saddle, though the desire to be part of a great movement can sometimes influence us against our better judgment. But reason is never wholly absent from the equation. Though the pair-bond, our most fundamental connection, is powered in part by sex, a force that operates at least partially below the conscious level, we can still exercise conscious control over our acceptance of it.

     The protagonist of one of your Curmudgeon's novels came at it this way:

     He had always been puzzled by sexual hunger. His lack of understanding had made him more than a little afraid of it. He was beginning to see. It was not the savage abandon of animals in rut. Nor was it a vanquishment of the mind by baser and more powerful impulses of the body.

     It was a rising, an exaltation.

     We spend our lives locked in prisons of flesh, yearning to believe that there might be something greater than our individual selves, and that someday, with enough preparation and enough effort, it might allow us to become part of it. Corporations, armies, governments and religions are all part of the same pattern. Yet how many would believe that such a thing might be possible to any two people sufficiently unafraid of one another to touch without fear? To offer themselves without reservation?

     [From On Broken Wings]

     And it is of the essence of humanity.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Preferences Uber Alles

     If there’s anything about Leftists’ rhetorical tactics that constitutes a generic foundation for their campaign, it would be their elevation of what they prefer over any conception of rights or law. (Yes, they do use the word rights quite a lot in referring to the things they demand, but not according to any meaning you or I would recognize.) Now and then they wave it in our faces, as in this case:

     Students at the prestigious University of Chicago say that free speech should not apply equally to everyone. The students objected to the school’s Institute of Politics’ invitation to former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. They claim that allowing him to speak “normalizes bigotry” and provides a platform for fascism....

     The coalition of students from U of C Resists, Graduate Students United, Students Working Against Prisons, and UChicago Socialists claim that the school’s “commitment to free expression” doesn’t require the institution to host him due to his alleged ties to white supremacists and similarly alleged calls to violence against minority groups and refugees....

     In addition to the letter, the student coalition set up a “Bigotry is not Normal” event to protest Lewandowski, in which over a hundred students claimed to have participated on Wednesday. Students set up protest fliers with statements like “This is not dialogue it’s a war.” [sic]

     Charming, eh? Of course, were these snotnoses ever to find themselves in the middle of a real war, complete with bombs, artillery, and high-velocity lead, they’d discover how dramatically it contrasts with the safe, placid environment of an American university. Yes, even a university in Chicago.

     But let’s get back to today’s main point. Clearly, the Leftist groups cited in that article don’t hold that freedom of expression is a right. Their position is identical to that of the late Marxist theorist Herbert Marcuse:

     The whole post-fascist period is one of clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. Different opinions and 'philosophies' can no longer compete peacefully for adherence and persuasion on rational grounds: the 'marketplace of ideas' is organized and delimited by those who determine the national and the individual interest. In this society, for which the ideologists have proclaimed the 'end of ideology', the false consciousness has become the general consciousness--from the government down to its last objects.

     “This is not a dialogue it’s a war” is merely a compact, rationale-free reformulation of Marcuse’s statement above. War, of course, is the customary refuge of those who seek to abolish individuals’ rights. It certainly constitutes an “emergency situation,” especially if the survival of the nation can plausibly be said to be at stake. It’s been used to justify the seizure of powers to which previous, peacetime governments didn’t dare to aspire...and which subsequent governments, whether in war or in peace, treated as theirs by bequest.

     Yet at the heart of the Marcusian thesis lies nothing more than a preference: the preference that one’s political opponents should be prevented from expressing their views. This cannot be justified on any grounds:

A right is not a preference.
It is not a permission.
It’s a principle of justice.

     Louis Thiers, himself an opponent of the concept of rights as Americans understand them, put it nicely:

     Either rights exist, or they do not exist. If they exist, they involve absolute consequences...Furthermore, if a right exists, it exists at every moment. It is absolute today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in summer as in winter, not when it pleases you to declare it in force.

     Therefore, if there is a right to express oneself, even the lowest and foulest of human creatures possesses it. More to the point, not even an “emergency situation” can abrogate it. But that cross-cuts the Left’s preferences...and to the Left, its preferences are all that really matter.


     Ultimately, the Sturm und Drang polluting our contemporary political discourse is about power. Many others have said that. I’ve said it often enough myself. All the same, it’s important enough to keep it in mind that it bears repeating. But it’s not about which of two forces shall possess a certain sheaf of powers; it’s about one side’s lust for absolute and unbounded power over all persons and things, and the other’s desire to be free.

     Americans were once noteworthy for their relative lack of interest in politics. That was a long time ago: before the Progressives of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries got their cart in gear. Back then, Americans could afford to take little or no interest in politics, because political power was a sharply restricted thing.

     A man can afford to take no notice of that which takes no notice of him. When that condition changes – when the instruments of power start to reach into ever more of life, society, and enterprise – he must change his ways as well. As the political penetration of his affairs advances, so also must he become more aware of it, more involved in it, and better defended against its depredations.

     If the Left, which has proclaimed that “The personal is political,” has decided upon war, then all methods shall be deemed licit and only the ultimate outcome shall matter. The politicization of the nation is complete. No one can remain apolitical. No subject is inherently outside the zone of conflict...and no one can assume that others will respect his right of free expression. This tirade of a few days back ceases to be merely a cri de coeur and becomes a tactical doctrine.

     And we don’t have to like it.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Transitions And Their Significance

     We speak of the ten weeks between a presidential election and the president’s inauguration – if the man elected isn’t the one currently occupying the Oval Office – as the “transition period.” That phrase conceals a wealth of complexity, including both moral and practical elements.

     Most Gentle Readers will remember the White House mess George W. Bush inherited when he arrived there in January of 2001. The defacing of walls, furniture, and equipment was a spiteful legacy from the Clintonites, who roundly detested the incoming president for having so narrowly defeated their anointed one, Al Gore. President Bush, whether or not it was to his credit, refused to make a big deal out of the vandalism, writing it off as a “boys will be boys” sort of prank...which it was not.

     The Obamunist cadre and its Democrat annex in the Senate found a much more effective way of hamstringing the incoming Trump Administration. Rather than deface the White House, Obama’s political appointees in the Cabinet merely resolved to impede Trump’s policies and attack his high-profile personnel, while Senate Democrats have strained to prolong the procedure for putting new Cabinet secretaries in place.

     The operation of a Cabinet department doesn’t pause between presidents and the confirmation of their Cabinet nominees. For example, for as long as there’s no new Attorney-General, a Deputy Attorney-General must run the department. Until recently, that was Sally Yates, whose name became infamous for instructing Justice Department personnel not to defend the Trump executive order on immigration restrictions. In that case Trump removed her as soon as her rebellion became known. It’s not quite that simple to deal with rebellions in other departments.

     The recent foofaurauw over Lieutenant-General Mike Flynn was propelled by political appointees and careerists in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. These are people Trump had not thought to remove before they could make trouble for him. I have little doubt that others he hasn’t yet removed, whose replacements will be slow-walked in the Senate, are planning further mischief with which to impede the policies on which he campaigned.

     This is both a symptom of the political warfare of our time and a reminder of one of the irrevocable truths of government:

Personnel Is Policy.

     An incomplete purge of the Cabinet departments, such as the one the Obama-to-Trump transition period displays, leaves the previous administration’s lieutenants in place to continue the previous administration’s policies...which they will most assuredly do. The men who guided the Carter-to-Reagan transition, which has been hailed by political analysts as one of the smoothest on record, understood this and acted on it. They convinced Reagan to remove every Carter appointee from the Cabinet, at once and without exception, even if no replacement had yet been chosen for the post. In Revolution, his chronicle of the Reagan years, Martin Anderson noted the explicitness of this policy, stating outright that “we would rather have an empty office than a holdover.” Owing to the compliance of Senate Democrats, who forbore to delay the confirmations of Reagan’s Cabinet appointees, it worked out excellently well.

     Things are different today. The Democrats understand that their sole remaining bastion in the federal government – the alphabet agencies – is one Trump intends to shrink, and they’re disinclined to allow any such thing. So Schumer and his merry men (aided by certain unfortunate nominal Republicans who must be disposed of) have done everything they can to impede the installation of Trump’s appointees. That has enlarged the time interval in which the Obama holdovers can create roadblocks to Trump’s priorities.

     Trump, a businessman, has always prized continuity of administration in his enterprises. It’s part of his hands-on approach to management. Will he fire a division president? He will if he must...but he’ll then elevate a vice-president to “acting” status while he decides on a new chief. It’s an approach well suited to business, but far less so to governance.

     The formal transition period is well behind us, yet owing to systematic obstruction by Senate Democrats several important Cabinet secretary positions remain unfilled. The acting heads of those departments aren’t friendly to Trump’s ideas. Several have already shown what sort of damage they can do. Others are probably formulating schemes. Perhaps our new president will draw the moral before the harm becomes irremediable.

Pearls of expression.

Progressives and liberals do not tolerate beliefs or actions they consider unjust, yet they demand conservatives do so.
"A Justified Intolerance of Islam." By Paul Pauker, American Thinker, 2/16/17.

U.K. Conservative Party leadership.

Nearly 450,000 more migrants are working in the UK while the number of British-born people in work has fallen by 120,000, according to new figures.
"Number of British-born workers falls as non-UK employees increase by almost 450,000 in a year." By Steven Swinford, The Telegraph, 2/15/17.

Pearls of expression.

Would that [Valerie] Jarrett had received as much media scrutiny of her role in eight years under Obama as Bannon has in less than four weeks.[1]

You'll remember Jarrett as the woman with a communist grandfather and communist father-in-law. As Remus likes to say, it was in all the papers.

Notes
[1]  "Washington Is Out to Get Steve Bannon." By John Fund, The Unz Review, 2/12/17.